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High School Personality Linked With Dementia Risk

October 22, 2019

Maladaptive personality traits while in high school may be independent risk factors for dementia a half-century later, according to a study published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

While personality has been linked with subsequent dementia in previous studies, those studies focused on older adults who, despite a lack of symptoms, may have already been experiencing neuropathic changes associated with dementia, researchers explained. To investigate whether personality traits could be considered true risk factors for dementia, this study centered on a population in which dementia pathology in most instances is absent: adolescents.

The study zeroed in on a 1960 sample of 82,232 US high school students. At the time, the study population had 10 personality traits measured using a 150-item inventory. Socioeconomic status, demographic factors, height, and weight were recorded for each of the students.

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Researchers then looked at dementia diagnoses among participants between 2011 and 2013.

Adolescents who were calm and mature, the study found, were less likely to develop dementia 54 years later. The risk reduction was more pronounced with higher socioeconomic status.

Higher levels of vigor during adolescence were also associated with lower dementia risk.

“Ultimately, the findings herein underscore the importance of considering earlier-life social circumstances and personality in evaluating dementia risk in addition to more recent information,” researchers wrote.

“Personality phenotype may be a true independent risk factor for dementia by age 70 years, preceding it by almost 5 decades and interacting with adolescent socioeconomic conditions.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Chapman BP, Huang A, Peters K, et al. Association between high school personality phenotype and dementia 54 years later in results from a national US sample. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019 October 16;[Epub ahead of print].

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